As you know I’ve been flying in and out of Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, I’m one of the fortunate ones who get to benefit from the new Changi Airport Terminal 4 to the extent of more than once a month.
In embracing technology, Terminal 4 is all about automation with passengers taking to the start-to-end automated processes, from checking in to baggage tagging and aircraft boarding. For most, it is an impressive feat but for me, I miss the good old human touch.
When I arrived at Terminal 4 for the first time to fly back with my little diva to Kuala Lumpur, it wasn’t without glitches. I couldn’t find anyone that can tell me whether I need to check in my baby stroller. And when I managed to locate a face behind a counter, I had to queue for 15 minutes because there is only one person handling a group of 10 passengers, having unique problems like mine. Sure, it’s not every flight you get to encounter a lone traveller with a screaming baby, frazzled and struggling to find a simple answer to whether I need to check in my stroller. But one time is one time too many for me. I ended up getting the wrong answer from a volunteer, redirected from the customs officers to get my stroller registered with a checked in tag, all in the span of half an hour. Fortunately, I’m always early at airports and I had my in-laws sent me off so the frazzled portion is greatly reduced. With the traditional check-in, I usually get my answers (including how much liquid I can bring onboard to feed my baby) at the counter by an actual human being (smiling or not).
This led me doubting that automation is actually a good thing. It is not only airports, supermarkets in Singapore are gearing towards self-checking out your own groceries. You scan the products you want to purchase, pay for it and bagged it yourself either in a plastic bag or your recycle bag. Stop… wait a minute… where are all the cashiers? The old ladies who never fail to smile and greet me as they scanned each barcode carefully. Have you noticed how they always able to place all the meat into one bag, eggs and bread into another, canned food in two overlying bags? Amazing! I just dumped all my purchases into one bag.
Companies are trying to sell us the idea that of automation comes convenience and lesser processing time for us consumers while I can only see cost savings for the corporation as they cut down on manpower. Oh, I don’t subscribe the notion of passing us the savings – they need the money to maintain those automation – and technology costs more when it comes to maintenance and upgrading. Food for thought – these companies are not paying us to bag our own groceries or checked in ourselves or tagged our own pieces of luggage.
What about F&B providers who ask us to return our own tray after we are done with our meal? Of course, it is good manners to return your own empty plates once you finished but are we taking jobs away from those who clean after us? Where or what jobs can the uneducated do? Not everyone has the means to upgrade themselves with skills so that they can hold on to their jobs or get a better job. As the nation progresses, these people get left behind. The key question we should all ask ourselves, who has really benefit here?
We have trains that run entirely on automation, cutting down (again) the need to have the manpower to operate the machinery. Supermarkets without the cashiers. Restaurants without service staff. Airport without front line crew. As Singapore is busy filling up every empty ceilings and corner with CCTV, are we recruiting fewer policemen to patrol our neighbourhood too?
I dread the future where we have driverless cars for our cabs, online tutorials in place of lessons in school and food that are cooked by robots. With social media and our generation’s preference in swiping right for a date than to actually join a book club to meet someone face to face, we are drifting further from human interactions. Here we are as parents, grasping at straws, trying to get our kids to go outdoors and enjoy the nature when he or she will likely to be greeted by an automated cleaner the moment they opened the door, speak to a voice-activated elevator and monitored by the CCTV on the street lamps.
Advancement comes with a price. My little diva missed the friendly pinch of her chubby cheek by the cashier lady whenever we are in Singapore. Luckily we do most of our groceries in Kuala Lumpur where she still gets worshipped by the cashiers here.
Please share your thoughts on automation with us. Do you think it is a good thing?
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